Montenegro: Something’s Awfully Amiss

Montenegro is a rugged, mountainous country with much natural beauty and many notable historical sites. Most of them with surprisingly well-kept or renovated architecture. At the time of this writing, there are four Unesco world heritage sites in this postage-stamp-sized nation of just over six-hundred-thousand people, and seven more locations await Unesco approval.

The tiny little Balkan republic is nestled between Bosnia & Herzegovina (and a sliver of Croatia) (to the northwest), Serbia (to the northeast), Kosovo (to the east-southeast), Albania (to the south), and the beautiful Adriatic sea on its west side.

Montenegro is fast becoming more than just a summer getaway for Balkan citizens, and you’ll find an increasing number of people flocking there from all over the planet. Unfortunately, though, many Montenegrin people express opinions that travelers to their nation are all arrogant foreigners, and anyone who visits is just there to wave money about. A bit of an inferiority complex perhaps? More on that later.

❝Show me the heroes that the youth of your country look up to, and I will tell you the future of your country.❞

― Idowu Koyenikan.

As I’m from western Canada, British Colombia to be exact, I don’t travel primarily to be wowed by nature. British Colombia is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise, so it takes a lot to drop my jaw. This may seem boastful, but it’s the truth. That being said, most of my motivations for travelling are cultural. A sentiment shared by my wife, with whom I gallivant about.

What draws us to places is history, culture, and most of the time, a coastline of some sort, though that’s not a definite requirement. However, historical architecture and food culture are of paramount importance. And honest, genuine people. Which are surprisingly difficult to find.

All that being said, what drew us to Montenegro were the ancient sites, the lovely sea, and more Balkan food. The ease of obtaining residency and the favourable tax system also played their parts in us choosing to investigate Montenegro as a possible long-ish-term home.

Yes, Montenegro is beautiful. It has tall, tree-covered, rocky mountains. It has lakes and rivers, valleys, tunnels, bridges, and trains even. It’s cleaner than other Balkan countries and has a beautiful coastline with plenty of big, sandy beaches and very swimmer-friendly waters. You can catch all manner of fish in Montenegro, on the lakes, in the rivers, and in the sea. There is plenty to occupy summer visitors and sightseers of all ages. It’s got a lot going for it.

Montenegro is undoubtedly stunning

There are many great things about this wee little nation, to be sure. And some are not so great. But a bit more on the good before I illustrate why we didn’t stick around.

The old towns of Budva, Kotor, Ulcinj, Perast, Herceg Novi, and the luxury resort of Sveti Stefan are in remarkably good condition. Those in charge of ensuring they stay that way (and the hard-working foreigners doing the actual work) should be commended. Keeping these ancient gems in such excellent shape is obviously, and thankfully, a top priority of Montenegro. Impending EU membership may play some part in this, but I doubt it. Keeping these sites in good form has obviously been of some importance for a long time, or they wouldn’t be.

Parts of the Montenegrin coast

The food is generally quite good, though not as good as Macedonia or Albania, but still good. The Njeguši Prosciutto is to die for, though. It’s probably the best prosciutto in the world. No, definitely. It’s the world’s best. It has to be. The method of making Njeguški pršut should be considered an art form. Take this traditional tour in the tiny village of Njeguši, on the slope of Mount Lovćen, to have your mind blown!

One of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten was at the Marenda Grill House in Kotor. Fortuna restaurant, also in Kotor also has excellent food for value, and top-notch service.

One thing to keep in mind if considering Montenegro is the fact that, like all Balkan countries, it’s a very meat-and-cheese-centric country, although there is no shortage of fruit & vegetables at the many markets. The major cities of the Balkans do seem to be coming along in this regard.

Kotor Old Town Market

And, again, like all Balkan nations, Montenegro also takes great pride in its many flavours of rakija, the name for the alcoholic spirit of the region. It’s called raki in Albania.

We had some truly excellent rakija in Montenegro. At the Konoba Akustik in Kotor, I sampled an exceptionally delicious raspberry rakija while enjoying a great meal. Our young waiter, who was extremely knowledgeable about his country’s history, provided us with stellar service and good conversation. It was a thoroughly pleasant experience.

Something I have to address about Montenegro, something that’s quite rare and wonderful in fact, is that in most places you can leave your belongings out on pub tables, even valuables and money, and most locals wouldn’t even consider taking them. Thievery is generally committed during the summer months by foreigners (strangers as the locals call us), or gypsy kids. Most likely, if you leave something behind one night after a few too many rakija, it’ll be waiting behind the counter for you whenever you return.

I really respect the hell out of Montenegrin people for this. An honourable characteristic in any culture. And unusual. Montenegro is very safe in general. It’s also really beautiful. There’s no denying that.

skodra-lake-montenegro
Skadar Lake, Montenegro

We rented a car for a week in June 2021 and put on a good number of miles exploring the sights within driving distance of Tivat. That range covers half the country if I’m honest. But we weren’t quite that ambitious.

Starting in Tivat, we zipped to Podgorica (Poed-gore-itza) to pick up a friend, and stayed there for a night before slowly cruising back to Tivat. The day after our return to Tivat was spent driving around the entire Lustica (Loosh-teet-za) peninsula. In my opinion, the Lustica peninsula was the best experience of the week, with the tiny seaside, storybook town of Rose being one of the highlights of the trip. The big, sandy beach and perfect water at Plavi Horizonti Plaza was the other.

After Lustica, our little adventure was topped off with a day trip to Kotor.

Lovely Rose

The company we went through for the rental vehicle we hired is called DAX Rent a Car, and the entire process was effortless and cheap. They delivered the car to our location, went over the particulars, which included a brief examination of the vehicle, and sped off into the sunrise.

Hardly, but that sounds cooler than the truth. We highly recommend them, and we don’t get paid to say that!

Although driving around Montenegro was enjoyable, sometimes it’s nicer to simply be a passenger, so in July, instead of renting our own boat, we hired someone with a boat to take us from Kotor to Our Lady of the Rock nearby the postcard-worthy village of Perast.

Legend says that the islet of Our Lady of the Rock was created over the centuries by Montenegrin seamen who kept a sacred oath after discovering an image of the Virgin Mary on the rock in 1452. Each time they would return from a voyage, they would drop a rock in the bay. Over time an islet eventually emerged from the sea.

An Orthodox chapel was built on the site, which later became a Catholic Church after the Venetians took over the region in the 1630s. To this day, every July 22nd at sunset, the citizens of Perast throw rocks into the sea there.

A bit of a shaky video after an hour-long boat ride, but here is Our Lady of the Rock, Montenegro.

So, with all these things going for little Monty (Montenegro. My own term), why won’t we be returning?

Hmmmmmm, where shall I begin?

The first place we rented in Montenegro was a small apartment in Tivat. It was clean, in a great location, and we got a good deal. The landlady and her husband were friendly enough, and she took care of sorting out our €1 per day tourist tax by taking our passports and payment to the tourist office herself. Normally I wouldn’t ever even consider handing my passport to a stranger for them to disappear with for thirty minutes, but she assured me it was perfectly natural, and I believed her. The passports were returned shortly thereafter, with tax receipts and a smile.

But that doesn’t sound like a reason to avoid an entire nation.

Nope, it isn’t.

Tivat is pretty and clean, but it has no soul. Many of the young people are rude as hell and somewhat arrogant. Which still perplexes me. What do Montenegrins have to be so arrogant about? Other citizens of Tivat were quite friendly and attentive though, so it wasn’t everyone. All the same, Tivat isn’t exactly what I would call a welcoming place.

Originally a small village of no importance, the biggest draw of Tivat now is the luxury super-yacht marina & village of Porto Montenegro, more or less centrally located along the coastline of Tivat. Built by a Canadian billionaire and some other investors, a couple of Rothchilds even, Porto Montenegro is one of the most swank marinas on the Adriatic, and has somewhat of a wannabe Monaco vibe.

Maybe this contributes to the snotty attitudes of some of the young people there. Villager mentality. Something I found rampant throughout Montenegro.

Porto Montenegro

After Tivat, we rented an apartment in the old town of Kotor, something we were advised against doing by one of the locals. We should have listened.

Gorgeous though Kotor Bay is (the historic old town, the fjords, and the absolutely epic fortress are marvels indeed), it’s a small, small place. And living in the old town only makes it that much smaller. After a few weeks I could feel the microscope zeroing in. I don’t like small towns, and my wife and I had semi-committed to many months in a cage. What a blunder.

The best part of our Kotor life was at Klub Invalida, a small haunt that sells cheap beer & rakija just inside the old town walls. Some of the only genuine people we met in the country, we met there. And at Fortuna restaurant, which is across the river from the old town. They were actually some of the most genuine people we’ve ever met anywhere.

Some beautiful things in Kotor

Staying in old town Kotor may have felt like living under a microscope, but in reality, the entire country of Montenegro is small in every way. So small. Due to this, many Montenegrins seem hyper-obsessed with image and reputation. It’s a little country of tiny settlements and has an overwhelming villager mentality. Many people are born, raised, and live their entire lives in this microscopic nation, often not straying out of their local regions. And it’s not always because they can’t, it’s because they won’t.

There are many Balkan jokes about Montenegrins and their astounding laziness. In fact, they even have a “Laziness Olympics” competition every year. It seems to me that the most popular sport in the country is hanging out. Most of the time, the people I saw and talked to who made the most of what Montenegro has to offer were foreigners. Many Montenegrins seem to prefer hanging out drinking and complaining while doing nothing to rectify any of the issues they complain about.

I’m guessing that living at home into your thirties or forties, with your mommy wiping your nose and making lunch for you while you scream at her (if you’re a male) certainly inspires laziness. And entitlement. These are not desirable traits. This doesn’t apply to all Montenegrins, obviously, but enough to be of concern.

Kick your kids out of the house and maybe they’ll be forced to find some ambition. Young people in other parts of the world can’t afford to live on their own either, but they move away from their parents and live with each other. It builds character.

Something else to note, females are still lesser humans in Montenegro. In the Balkans as a whole, really. Apparently, many Montenegrin women still travel to Serbia to abort female fetuses.

A lot of Montenegrin people I talked to, and there were many, shared the opinion that nobody else alive gets the point of existence, which is to avoid as much work as possible while loafing about. A good approach to life for sure, to a point. But resenting every visiting foreigner as an arrogant wealth-flashing idiot isn’t a really accurate or healthy way to think. Working hard toward success does in fact have some merit. How else do you think all those rich foreigners can afford to come to your country and wave their money around? Try it out sometime.

And although many locals express resentment concerning the money-waving foreigners, much of the smiling attitude I got from waiters, tour guides, and shop staff came when I was about to give them cash. Or when they thought I might if they acted friendly toward me or my wife. Pass by the same shops without buying things for a couple of weeks, however, and the smiles disappear. Eventually not even a “Hello”.

Once, when a waiter in Kotor mistook me for someone who had shorted him €15 a month prior, his true colours came out, and they weren’t pretty. The eventual apology weeks afterwards was strained and insincere.

When we informed our smiling, seemingly helpful, friendly and easygoing landlord that we would be vacating the apartment early, he morphed into an unbearable, threatening monster. We had no contract whatsoever and he would have zero trouble renting it out within a week. Not to mention we gave him plenty of notice and an extra €900 for his troubles. But instead of conducting himself like a reasonable adult, he became a sneaky, lying weasel.

The pained theatrics and the betrayal-induced tantrum were worthy of some kind of artistic award. He really committed to the performance when the tantrum produced no favourable results, trying his hardest to gather personal information from us (for the purposes of forging lease documents, I imagine).

Just a passport photo will be fine!

I don’t think so, pal.

When that transparent ploy also fell flat, he resorted to desperation and hit us with a random (and completely unenforceable) invoice for thousands of euros. Needless to say, we didn’t entertain his ridiculous demands or make any further attempts to assuage his insurmountable anguish. We decided to avoid further complications by quickly packing up and fleeing town before things got uglier.

Not an overly pleasant experience, but sort of exciting and James Bond-ish at the end.
And if any of these things weren’t annoying enough on their own, we had one last lesson to learn before departing the country.

The lesson was that ordering things online in Montenegro is a nightmare. The mail systems in all the Balkans suck actually. I ordered contact lenses from Italy, which you can almost see from the mountaintops of Montenegro on a clear day. The package did arrive, eventually, after an entire month had passed. By which time we had left the country. Montenegro doesn’t have Amazon or anything similar either.

These are just a couple more inconveniences to be aware of as a foreigner.

Even though I’ve now stated quite a litany of what I perceive to be some glaring flaws, we did meet a good number of decent folks in Montenegro. A few really good ones in fact. I hope they don’t take too much offence over my lambasting their country. It really isn’t that bad. There are just a few obvious shortcomings that came to the surface over two-and-a-half months, and someone who isn’t from the Balkans needs to address them. It’s the responsible thing to do for the sake of other potential residents.

We discovered that a few of our fellow travel bloggers, like Adventurous Miriam, felt pretty much the same about little Monty.

Montenegro would probably be best for retirees who like a super slow pace and don’t have too many requirements as far as western amenities go. If small towns, pretty geography, numerous ancient sites, an insane amount of history, a very relaxed atmosphere, and affordability are your thing, give Montenegro a shot. Oh, and the best prosciutto in the world. Can’t forget about that.

#1 Proscuitto!

So, as a last note, I’ll say now that although Montenegro certainly has many charms, and even a number of really good people (mostly from Serbia), my overall opinion of the place is that it’s rather disingenuous and uninspired. It is a shame, since it’s so stunning.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s a nice spot to visit for a week or two (I would even recommend it), but I wouldn’t want to live there. And with Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the north, Albania to the south, and a whole big world to explore, it’s a country I likely won’t be seeing twice.

To experience everything that Montenegro has to offer, we recommend taking this week long private tour. It covers everything you need to see!
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